Our history

01 Our History
02B Our History

It began in 1931 with Jack Pritchard, Isokon’s visionary founder. The baton was later passed to Chris McCourt, who, as guardian of Jack’s philosophy, judiciously engaged Isokon Plus with new designers and commissions. It continues with Mark Smith, who has spent 12 years working with wood, the Isokon Plus way – selectively, independently, slowly.

Isokon is a contraction of ‘Isometric Unit Construction.’ Prichard felt evoked the European modernism he was keen to bring to stuffy pre-war Britain. He wanted Isokon to make houses, flats furniture and fittings in units. And so, it began with Hampstead’s Lawn Road flats, the first modernist building of its kind. Lawn Road flats – now named the Isokon Building – needed the furniture and fittings Pritchard envisaged.

Bauhaus exiles Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer joined the venture in 1934, creating a small number of pieces from ply, including Breuer’s Long Chair and Egon Riss’ Penguin Donkey. But war thwarted commercial success; supplies of ply – tough and flexible – were diverted to the construction of dam-busting Mosquito bombers. Isokon hibernated.

Pritchard, ever an optimist, restarted production of Breuer’s Long Chair and Nesting Tables in 1963. He commissioned Ernest Race to update Riss' original Donkey, making the Mark 2 version and also to revisit the Bottleship. The former retained the panniers of Riss’ original, but its top was flattened for coffee cups. The latter, the Bottleship Mark 2 – perhaps designed for an evening reader – housed wine bottles and wine glasses.

In 1982 Chris McCourt was entrusted to continue the small-scale manufacture of Isokon pieces. McCourt reintroduced Breuer’s Short Chair, Dining Table, and Riss’ original Penguin Donkey. But, perhaps more importantly, McCourt reignited Isokon’s original raison d’etre by working with a new generation of designers, creating Isokon Plus.

Barber & Osgerby’s Loop Coffee Table was Isokon’s first new piece since Race’s Donkey Mark 2 33 years earlier. Their Loop Shelf and Flight Stool came next. Michael Sodeau’s Wing Units and and Tomoko and Shin Azumi’s Donkey 3 followed. In 2014, McCourt and Smith collaborated again with Barber & Osgerby to help them create the Bodleian Libraries Chair Competition winner.

Isokon Plus – our name cueing our collaborative mind set – is not about aping the past. We strive to maintain the ideals of our founders while – via the talent of the designers we work with – adding a new dimension.

03 Our History

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